Attorneys with the First Liberty Institute and Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP have filed a federal lawsuit against Evergreens at Smith Run in Fredericksburg, VA, and its parent company, Community Realty Company (CRC), for allegedly threatening to evict residents for leading a Bible study in their own apartment.
Ken and Liv Hauge, both in their mid-80s, have lived at the senior community since 2017. At the request of other senior residents, Ken, who is a retired Lutheran minister, decided to lead a Bible study.
In early 2017, the weekly Bible study group grew so large that Ken suggested moving the meetings to the facility’s community room in order to accommodate everyone. He put down a $100 deposit to reserve the room. However, according to First Liberty, Evergreens management refused to allow him to call the meetings a “Bible study,” but instead required him to call them a “book review.”
In July of 2018, Evergreens instituted a new, six-page community room policy, placing regulations on the community room, including disallowing use of the room for “religious services or for other religious purposes.”
That same month, the Hauges received a certified letter with a notice of eviction. The notice informed them that CRC considers Ken’s Bible study leadership to constitute “conducting a business,” which is prohibited by their lease. If Ken refused to cease leading the Bible study, whether in the community room or their private apartment, the Hauges’ lease would be terminated.
“The management company’s hostility to religious residents violates federal law and taints Virginia’s long history of religious freedom,” said Lea Patterson, associate counsel for First Liberty, in a press release. “We’re asking the court to hold the management company accountable for violating the Hauges’ right to exercise their faith in their home and to ensure no other residents have to suffer through what the Hauges have endured.”
CRC and Evergreens management are also being accused of banning all residents from publicly saying grace before their meals.
In October of last year, First Liberty asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to open an investigation into CRC for religious discrimination. That investigation is ongoing.
“It seems to me to be obvious why people should be free to express their basic convictions … without any limitations,” Ken said. “I believe we are guaranteed that right by law, and I think that’s enough reason to stand our ground.”